July 18, 2020

Bananas in Thailand

Just a banana? Overlooked as something quotidian – bananas in Thailand hope to change your mind.

This post may contain affiliate links, from which I receive a small commission on any resulting purchases at no cost to the customer. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. It keeps The Koh Samui Guide ad-free, never sponsored and 100% independent. See privacy policy for more details.

Bananas in Thailand: Kiss Your Cavendish Goodbye

Take a break from the supermarket and try out Thailand’s banana bounty – you’ll find them hard to leave behind. While in Thailand, you’ll see bananas growing all over the place (in fact you'll find a huge variety of fresh Thai fruit pretty much everywhere in Thailand, all the time). They’re just as common to a Thai garden as a backyard cherry tree in the West. Once you start paying attention, you’ll realise that banana trees in Thailand even grow as roadside weeds. Or even as beach-front beauties.

How many varieties of Thai bananas?

Thailand has about, well, a lot of banana varieties. We’ve read sources that claim 20, 28, 50 and ‘over a hundred’ – all with a preferred use. As with apples, some are better eaten raw, some stand out when cooking. Sometimes it's even the banana flowers you're after. Visit fruit markets around Thailand and you’ll begin to notice that some are fatter than others, and both colour and taste differ, too.

Why have you never seen bananas like this?

Why don't you see 100 banana varieties at your supermarket? It’s a surprising investigation, as Westerners will be so used to the taste and texture of the standard supermarket banana, the Cavendish. What happened to banana variety in the rest of the world? It's *possible* big business has something to do with it...

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World

Read Dan Koeppel’s Banana book and you’ll never look at this fruit the same way again. Suspect there’s room for a new banana in your life? (Or, if sources are to be believed, 99 new bananas?) Start in Thailand!

Where to find bananas in Thailand?

Better question – is there any corner where they won’t pop up? Spend any time out and about in Thailand, and you’ll spot bananas for sale in strange places. Certainly the supermarket and at fruit markets, but also at the auto-parts shop, T-shirt shops, and any variety of local businesses. These are guaranteed to be home-grown and as fresh as can be - akin to finding eggs for sale along a country road.

Banana trees in Thailand

If coming from a cold country, you’ll enjoy having banana trees and their happy leaves surround your holiday. They’re a plant that waves “welcome to the tropics!” While you have the opportunity, take some time to inspect a banana tree up-close and see where the fruit comes from. Both kids and adults will find this fascinating, especially if you’ve never seen bananas outside of a supermarket.

  • 8 metres: Banana trees can grow up to 8 metres tall (26 feet)
  • 110 pounds: The full bunch/stem of bananas can weigh 30–50 kilograms (66–110 lb)
  • Quite a handful: Each ‘row’ of bananas is called a tier or a ‘hand’
  • 20X20: a banana stem can have up to 20 tiers, with 20 fruits each. No wonder home-grown bananas are sold – could you eat 400 bananas before they grow too ripe? (banana facts via Wikipedia)

Baby banana trees: Trees tend to sprout up next to each other, so while you’ll certainly see baby bananas in Thailand – you can probably spot baby trees as well. With some effort, the babies are dug up and relocated in order to give them enough space. In little time, a full grove of banana trees has developed. The trees love water.

How to grow your own banana tree
' Ice Cream' banana plant + dwarf Cavendish plant

How to grow your own banana tree:

Amazon, of all places, has a surprising variety of rare banana trees. Most are very content to live in a container. If you're able to give them a warm and sunny environment, with lots of water and regular feed – you'll be very happy together.

Don’t have much space?

Try growing a 'truly tiny' mini banana tree (it grows just two feet tall).

Next best thing to real banana plants?

For those of us who can't grow our own – it's easier than you'd think to keep banana plants indoors. All of the happy points, none of the plant death – it's not a bad switch.

The banana flower

Banana flowers are pretty spectacular - we love the tropics for flowers the size of guinea pigs. They’re man-sized flowers, and you can tell that they really mean business. For a great science and nature experience that kids will love, visit a Thai supermarket (or, with luck, an Asian supermarket in The West) and buy a banana flower! (Find them in the packaged fresh produce section).

Banana flowers are sold as an edible delicacy with a variety of uses in cooking – both as an ingredient and a garnish. Want to see what a tiny, tiny banana looks like? Buy a flower and dissect.

How to enjoy bananas in Thailand

Sriracha Banana Chips + 'Bare' Banana Chips
Sriracha Banana Chips + 'Bare' Banana Chips

Dried bananas: Another favourite incarnation of Thai bananas is dried bananas with honey. As sticky brown messes, they really don’t look appetising, but they’re delicious.

Banana leaves as wrapping paper: "What’s the green thing, and do we eat it?" No. You might also see food wrapped in green leaves – often sweet or savoury sticky rice in banana leaves. The banana leaves are just the wrapper, used to hold the contents while it’s cooked and served. Don’t eat them! Unwrap it first, and then enjoy. Banana leaves are also folded into cups to cook curries, and all sorts of containers – for use around the home, the temple and during Thai festivals.

Banana shakes and pancakes: While coconut shakes and pineapple shakes might get your attention, you have to try a banana shake as well. To us, it’s the perfect breakfast. Paired with? A banana pancake - eaten beachside for brunch, or straight from Pancake Man’s cart late at night.

So go bananas

As you can see, it's easy to totally indulge on Thai bananas whether you want to eat them or grow them (or, indeed, bake 'til crispy and add some Sriracha sauce). If the above has you put in a tropical fruity sort of mood, don't miss: